Gate into Cambodia at Thai border
After waking on Day 2 and finally getting some much needed rest I woke early and met my team leader for the tour I had joined. I had joined a tour that would take me overland to Cambodia so I could go to Angkor Wat and then would return to Bangkok after. I always love traveling over land and going via public transportation because I think it's part of the travel experience. There were 5 other people who joined my group and in the morning we got breakfast at the hotel while we listened to our group leader explain how we would travel that day. The first was a woman in her 50s who actually turned out to live only a few blocks from me in Manhattan. She was nice but definitely didn't seem like she would fit in with this type of tour - a somewhat of a roughing it type trip.
The rest-stop along the way to Siem Reap.
The was an older couple from Norway and 2 brits in their early 20s who had just arrived in Asia after spending several months in Australia. We got to know each other over breakfast and then headed out to the local bus station where we would board a bus to take us to the border.
We got on the bus (non-air conditioned) and rode for a few hours - I think the fare was very cheap. I actually enjoyed just staring out the window and seeing the countryside. When we got to the drop-off point we were still a couple miles from the actual border so we hopped in tuk-tuks to take us a little further. After that we walked up to border patrol - it was very simple and somewhat of an experience for me. The first time I was entering into a country that I would consider third-world.
Along the road between Siem Reap & Thai border.
I had already gotten a visa ahead of time so I walked around a bit as the other 5 in my group got theirs (it was a pretty easy process and only cost $20). At the border I was really hit by the poverty level of the country and where I was actually going. Their were a lot of children begging for money with swollen guts obviously from malnutrition. All pavement had disappeared and the dirt roads started making everything increasingly brighter and dustier. Everything looked at least 10 years old - the cars, the buildings, etc. but without any newer things to compare it to it seemed normal in a strange way rather than beat up.
After we all had our visas and got past customs we boarded another tiny bus that took us about a mile outside the checkpoint.
The local transportation going to Siem Reap.
From there our guide found 2 drivers who would bring us into Siem Reap
. So we piled into the cars that already had about 10 years ware on them and split up into the cars to start our drive.
The road from the border to the city was not paved and very bumpy - it took about 3-4 hours to get there when driving in a US highway you could probably cover the same distance in under an hour. If someone did drive to quickly though the dust would come up and make it to difficult for the people behind you to see. There were no lanes and I'm guessing no traffic laws - people just drove and passed others when they wanted. The ride into the city was a fantastic experience but a little sad at the same time.
Local performance at first dinner.
The poverty again was really clear as we saw the huts spread out along the road sporadically while we drove. Sometimes we came along something that would actually qualify as a house but for the most part I think hut is more accurate. There were lots of people on bikes - and in some cases lots of people on 1 bike. At one point I saw an entire family of 6 all on one little moped - dad driving with one kid standing on the seat in front of him, 2 kids sand-whiched between him and his wife who was sitting behind him holding a baby. I stared in amazement because I'm not sure how they actually managed that feat. On the other mopeds there was often livestock hanging off the back - huge pigs or crates with chickens. There were also makeshift tractors which really just consisted of a tractor engine pulling a wagon with tons of people sitting inside. Along the way we stopped once at what must have been the only built up area along the road - which really just consisted of more sturdy huts grouped together and a place to buy some food and go to the bathroom (my first introduction to squat toilets!). Aside from that one stop I just enjoyed the ride (the slow, bumby, dusty ride) and took in my surroundings.
By the time we arrived at our guest house it was night - traveling had taken most of the day. We got settled in and then as a group went to get some dinner where we were entertained by a traditional dance performance (it felt touristy but I enjoyed it all the same). I walked around the city (and as a native new yorker I use the word "city" loosely here) and then headed back to the guest house (in a tuk-tuk, one of my new favorite modes of transportation). The next day would be the start of seeing the sights starting with an early early wake-up to go see sunrise over Angkor Wat.